This International Women’s Day, we speak for action to end violence against women. Violence against women is a grievous problem in society. The recent events in India highlighted the pervasive nature of violence against women in all societies. In most discussions of violence against women, however, a core type of violence is frequently ignored or left out.
According to the World Health Organisation, 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion worldwide each year; 18.5 million of these occur in developing countries. Moreover, 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortion each year. Deaths due to unsafe abortion remain close to 13% of all maternal deaths. (WHO, 2011)
The evidence is clear: lack of safe legal abortion kills women, and when it does not, it can disable and damage. A further five million women are temporarily or permanently disabled by unsafe abortion every year (Shah and Aman, 2009). What should be a fast, safe and effective medical procedure is instead, for millions of women, a tragedy. As it has such damaging consequences to women (and only women), it is impossible to deny that unsafe abortion and lack of access to safe legal abortion is a form of violence against women.
As a result, any commitment to action for ending violence against women must include the removal of barriers to safe legal abortion. Despite this, at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, many countries are arguing for the removal of the mention of reproductive rights from the text of the outcome document. This amounts to actively permitting this violence to continue unabated.
Like all forms of violence against women, the perpetuation of this type of violence would not be possible without the existence of patriarchal institutions and attitudes that treat women as less than. Patriarchal attitudes are what enabled the rapists who attacked Damini. Patriarchal attitudes tell a woman that she is to blame if she is harassed on the street, online or at work, or hit by her husband. Patriarchal attitudes tell women that their choices about their bodies are invalid, and their lives are worth less than abstract ideals. When women’s bodies are seen as public property, violence against women happens. When the sexuality of women is feared and seen as something to be controlled, violence against women happens.
A promise is a promise; it is time for action to end violence against women. All forms of violence. The violence that is direct and visible, and also, the indirect violence that is no less harmful and that results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries. All of these forms of violence against women rape, harassment, domestic violence, the violence that is lack of access to safe abortion services all have many of the same causes.
ARROW Publications on Unsafe Abortion and Gender Based Violence
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